How often this week has someone told you about a problem that happens ‘all the the time’?
When did you last get dragged into an issue because someone ‘always does’ that thing that winds up everyone else?
As a leader an important part of your role is to remove the barriers which are stopping your team from being their best. It may be a recurring technical problem, the actions of a team member, or ‘constantly’ being held back by something in the system. If these issues can’t be resolved at a lower level, and they are impacting on the ability of your team to deliver excellence, then they are going to land on your desk.
But, are you spending your time trying to fix the right things?
Let’s be honest we can all be guilty of jumping to conclusions before we have all the information. We might listen to only one persons concerns. Or, accept the most commonly stated version of events. More often the problem is not as big as it first appears.
Without meaning to people exaggerate the extent of a problem. This isn’t because they aim to misinform, but simply that to them it seems like a huge problem.
For example, the office stapler – back in the day when we used to use such things – would ‘always’ run out of staples when I needed to use it.
And the photocopier ‘always’ ran out of paper when I came to copy something. Under my breath I would mutter something along the lines of ‘am I the only person who ever fills this up’!
Of course, it didn’t and I wasn’t!
In reality I just didn’t pay attention to all the times when I used them and they didn’t need filling up.
There is even a term for it.
The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is when differences in data are ignored, but similarities are overemphasized.
This can cause us to reach a false conclusion.
There is a tendency in humans to interpret patterns where none actually exist.
The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some gunshots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the tightest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.
It’s a very common source of unnecessary action in our work life, because we tend not to dig deep enough to understand what the real problem is. People circle the hits – or number of times a problem occurs – and ignore the number of times that it doesn’t happen.
Facts before action.
So, next time a member of your team reports a problem which ‘happens all the time’, or an issue comes up in your team meeting and everyone concurs ‘that it’s a problem for them too’. Start with some critical questions.
This is not because you doubt that your team are frustrated by the problem but because you need to understand how much of a problem it is. You need to know what is really going on before you can decide how best to act.
To mis-quote Thomas Jefferson ‘the truth has nothing to fear from enquiry’.
Statistics and data are important.
In my experience when I asked how often has this problem occurred, it would often be a lot less than ‘always’. Sometimes this question alone can cut off the need for any major action. When asked this question a team can often come to the real conclusion, that actually it is not a problem at all but a minor annoyance that they need to find a sensible approach to.
How often the problem has occurred over time and in relation to the number of times it hasn’t happened needs to be determined.
The impact of the problem needs to be understood.
The reason for the problem needs to be ascertained. What is actually happening the point that it occurs? What are the inter-dependent and or coincidental actions occurring around the problem.
These are all tasks that you can pass back to your team.
Only when you have some of this basic information can you start to determine what actions you need to take next.